Shark Week is finally here! Growing up, I always wanted to be a marine biologist. After learning on a Shark Week special that marine biologists trained themselves to stay underwater for up to 5 minutes, I took it upon myself to practice at our local pool. Looking back, I don’t think the life guards were particularly pleased with the girl who stayed at the bottom of the pool for as long as possible…the fake whale sounds I made for fun probably didn’t help either.
Now in its 20th year, Shark Week on the Discovery Channel has developed a cult following. Every year, thousands of people gather at parties and around televisions to watch the latest in shark footage, in all its bloody gory. While I am mesmerized by the mystery shark attacks, bull sharks popping up in freshwater rivers, and just who killed Snuffy the seal, I can’t forget the point of shark week, conservation. Sharks kill fewer than 60 people per year, while humans kill 100 million (11,000 sharks per hour)!
Why should you care?
Sharks are the ocean’s caretakers. As some of the largest predators, they keep sea life populations in check. An endangered shark population leads to dysfunctional oceans, which unfortunately we are beginning to see. Seeing as we humans love recreational activities in the water or at the beach, eat lots of fish, and put seaweed in everything from toothpaste to ice cream (seriously, check the labels!), the ocean is kind of important. So we want to keep shark populations healthy.
I regret to report that most shark deaths are the direct result of our culinary habits. I’ll start with the obvious culprit, shark-fin soup.
Shark-fin soup dates to the Ming Dynasty around the 15th century C.E., when it was reserved for emperors as a symbol of wealth and power. Since the late 19th century, shark-fin soup has become more accessible with the influx of money in countries such as China and Japan. In many countries, especially China, shark-fin soup is served at special celebrations such as weddings. Tourists to these destinations are equally to blame as they want to taste this rare delicacy. I say “taste” lightly because from what I am told, shark fins are tasteless…mainly just for texture and prestige. I’d expect more from a $100 bowl of soup.
The fins for shark-fin soup are “harvested” in a rather grotesque manner. Since there are laws regulating how many pounds of shark meat and fins may be brought to shore, many fishermen cut off the shark’s fin out at sea. The fin-less shark is then left in the ocean to bleed to death. As a foodie, let me tell you -no bowl of soup is worth this.
Cutting the fins off sharks in U.S. waters has been illegal since 2000, when President Bill Clinton banned it. But in most states, it is legal to import fins from other countries. Therefore, while there are no sharks in D.C. (well, except in the Tidal Basin of course, where they hang out with my pal Thomas Jefferson), I have seen shark meat for sale in certain stores. California, the world’s second largest purchaser of shark fins, just banned shark fin sales this past July, and New York is slated to end sales in 2014. I hope that all states are soon to follow.
While shark-finning accounts for many shark deaths, a far greater problem is longline fishing. This technique is used to catch fish like tuna and mackerel by baiting thousands of hooks at once and catching the fish with large nets. Sharks, dolphins, and other sea life are often caught by mistake as bycatch, and die in the process.
What can you do?
1) Don’t eat shark-fin soup. Period. It is high in mercury and very expensive anyway. Your body, wallet, and world will thank you.
2) Pressure your local politicians to ban the importation of shark fins.
3) Only purchase fish and seafood that has been responsibly caught to avoid bycatch. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a very helpful list.
For further reading:
Now that I have thoroughly depressed everyone, let’s get back to shark shenanigans. My friends and I certainly know how to throw a Shark Week party.
I love making these cupcakes because they are over-the-top and ridiculous. The fruit cupcakes are meant to look like drops of blood, the blue frosting represents the ocean, ginger snap crumbs mimic the coastline, a dark chocolate triangle is used for the shark fin, and pretzel goldfish become the bait. Enjoy!
Shark Week Cupcakes
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cups flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 ¼ cups diced strawberries or cherries
3 cups powdered sugar
For the frosting:
1 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons (or more) vanilla vodka
Toppings: dark chocolate squares cut into triangles, pretzel goldfish crackers, and crumbled ginger snaps or graham crackers
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake tin with paper sleeves.
2) Cream butter and sugar using an electric mixer or some really good arm muscles.
3) Add eggs and vanilla. Slowly add dry ingredients and continue mixing until incorporated.
4) Switch over to the old-fashioned spatula and carefully fold in strawberries/cherries.
5) Fill cups (18ish) 2/3 full with batter. Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes until golden. Allow to cool completely.
6) To prepare the frosting: Using an electric mixer, whip powdered sugar, butter, milk, and vodka until light and creamy. Taste test often until it’s just right J
7) Assemble the cupcakes and add toppings!
I decided to make shark cookies too! Just add a few drops of blue food coloring to sugar cookie dough and knead the dough so it swirls.
Roll out the dough and cut out shapes!
Bake on parchment paper-lined sheets in preheated 350 degree oven for 8 minutes or until brown. Cool and enjoy!